Monday, 12 November 2012

Warning: this blog post may contain strong English language

It's entirely possible that I'm a little tired and grumpy this evening, and as such, perhaps the rant which I am about to begin is a little harsh. But nevertheless it would only be a little harsh.

As a communications professional, I'm conscious of the need to think through who I contact. And to reach out to those people with relevant information. As a PR professional, if I made the grievous error of reaching out to a journalist who wasn't interested in the topic I was pitching, I'd find myself blacklisted, or even worse it would be posted about all over the internet (cf the wonderful bad pitch blog).

So it was with a little outrage that I opened an email newsletter from my alma mater this evening, the University of Durham, with the subject line "English Department Alumni Newsletter".

Why such outrage, you ask? Because I didn't study English.

Now I can see how such an error might occur. My degree did have the word "English" in the title, but I studied English Language and Linguistics, and I was registered in the Linguistics department. Not English. Durham closed my department the year I left, with the tutors moving mostly to the University of Northumbria. That felt, to me, appalling at the time, not least of all because it was one of the best courses in Linguistics in the country, but because the department received high impact scores. I'm not going to dwell on this though, because despite how it may have appeared to me, I was 21, and frankly don't really know the politics or strategic direction that the then administration based their decision on.

But while I won't dwell on the demise of the Linguistics department, I will dwell on the poor re-categorisation of a Linguistics graduate to an 'English Studies' mailing group. I won't blame the people involved with writing the newsletter, which is perfectly nice (although the e-reading interface is a little challenging and they might want to consider splitting the pages for online viewing). Where the buck stops is really in the management of alumni data at the University, wherever that sits. Is it CRM? Administration? I don't really know but this is a message to them, whoever they are:

Dear X,
I am a graduate from the University of Durham with a first class honours degree in English Language and Linguistics. Whilst that department no longer exists, at the time, it was a world-leading Social Science department. You wrote to me recently addressing me as an 'English Studies' graduate. I'm sorry, but you seem to have me confused me with an Arts student. You see, Linguistics has absolutely nothing to do with English Literature. In fact, I probably read as much literature as a plant scientist.
I spent my degree drawing syntax trees setting out grammatical sentence structures; analysing discourse; and writing out phonetic symbols. Where the English Literature scholars your newsletter addresses learned of poets and prose, and dug deep into understanding what these great works might mean, I was listening to kids learning to talk. I was watching individuals playing a game and analysing the sociological roles they assumed in a group. I was listening to accents and phonetically transcribing the sounds. I was studying people and language. I wasn't studying literature.
Other than them sharing the same symbols, they really don't have much in common. So can I have something targeted to me in my own right as an alumnus of your institution? Or does the fact that there no longer is a Linguistics department mean I am lost forever, a floating name in your CRM system without a proper category?

As I say, it's been a long day, perhaps I'm being too critical. And for the record, I absolutely loved my university experience. My heart beats a little faster when I think about how much I love Durham, how much I loved my time there. So I guess maybe that is why it's even a little sadder when my alma mater doesn't recognise me, lumps me with a group I share no affinity with, and doesn't offer me anything to engage with. Maybe I could ask the University of Northumbria to email me from their Linguistics department instead...

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